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Decidedly Un-Barbarian and Pretty Pink

Sometimes it’s as hard to describe a food and its characteristic flavors as it is to describe a tea. Rhubarb is just one of these foods.  To entice with adjectives is equally hard. Sometimes, therefore, you must take a flying leap into the unknown – an activity that sadly has been our lives for the past year. But a few pleasures have abided: Eating and drinking, and—if you are handy—cooking and baking. The one sure pleasure that I have enjoyed over this past year is cooking through the seasons as a marker of time. Now with spring on our doorstep and in our gardens, there are few seasonal foods that give me more pleasure than rhubarb – whether field-grown or hothouse, it’s a vegetable that is often treated like a fruit. Whatever you call it, it can be polarizing. You either love it or hate it.  I love it and love to find interesting ways to eat it.

What’s more, there seems to be a synergy between rhubarb and tea, which results in a few perfect pairings, one of which follows.

With its pinkish, reddish, and often greenish stalks, rhubarb stars here in an utterly simple dessert.  (Just don’t eat the leaves which, at my local farmer’s markets are usually trimmed off before selling; but if not, remove and discard them: They’re poisonous.) After the darkness of winter, when rhubarb is sliced or cut into chunks, lightly sugared, and quickly cooked with just some brewed tea in a saucepan, it is a palate reviver. A relative of sorrel and buckwheat, with its crisp, fleshy stalks, rhubarb plays well with other fruits – especially strawberries, another spring arrival. With their love for tea and rhubarb, the British have historically made great use of it in creams, crumbles, and custards.  Lightly poached in tea and then quickly cooled over ice, it’s pleasant when puréed and mixed with clouds of lightly-sweetened, softly-whipped cream in what the Brits call a fool (from the French word fouler, meaning to mash).  Dolloped into a teacup with rivulets of the sweetened poached liquid spooned over the top is a perfect way to enjoy both the rhubarb and the tea.

With its sometimes-bracing astringency tamed by sugar, rhubarb has a natural affinity for the most orchidy of oolongs. Here’s how to make this simple seasonal celebration.

Rhubarb-Oolong Fool

To serve 4 

  • ½ lb. of rhubarb, washed and cut into 1-inch lengths  
  • 2 c. of your favorite oolong tea, brewed as you would drink it
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • ½ c. granulated sugar (or slightly more to taste)
  • Garnishes in amounts as desired
    •  Fresh strawberries, sliced
    •  Gingersnap cookies
Rhubarb and Tea - Photo of rhubarb stalks on a counter

Brew the tea and place it in a non-reactive saucepan with the prepared rhubarb.  Cook over medium heat until just tender, about 5-7 minutes. Let cool and then remove the rhubarb into a food processor, blender, or bowl if you are using an immersion blender.  Add just enough of the tea liquid to achieve a smooth and just flowing puree. (Reserve the remaining poaching liquid.) 

Using a whisk or whisk attachment on a stand mixer, place the cream and the sugar together in the bowl and whip to soft peaks. (the sugar will dissolve perfectly.  Do not overbeat. Now fold the whipped cream into the cooled rhubarb and tea mixture. Divide the mixture into four delicate porcelain teacups. Then spoon some of the reserved tea liquid over the creamy rhubarb mixture. Garnish as desired with strawberries and a cookie on the saucer.

Photo “Rhubarb 1” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License to the photographers Don and Janet Beasley and is being posted unaltered (source)